An interesting conversation on one of recent management courses revolved around the dilemma of a manager favouring one employee over another in their department. The manager on the course was discussing the impact this was having on another department within his company.
He mentioned that, even though it may have seemed a trivial matter to the manager concerned, the rest of his team members were taking it very seriously and much wailing and gnashing of teeth was surrounding the whole department.
The manager was obviously unaware of the perception that he was giving to the rest of the team by his favouring one team member over the others.
This is a subtle issue that can creep up on many managers, as we are only human, and we often have preferences for the way one team member works, as it complements our values and ways of working. But it can also affect the whole culture of the department.
Resentment can build quickly when favouritism is suspected. Resentment quickly becomes bitterness, and bitterness leads to all sorts of behaviour which can create problems within the department. Productivity can be affected, bitter infighting on a subtle level, divisions between the favoured employee and their team members, absenteeism and higher staff turnover.
So, Should all team members be treated equally?
Don’t get me wrong…I believe good performance should be rewarded. And a single management style won’t work with everyone. Some employees need extra attention to reach their potential, while others are more intrinsically motivated and can achieve great things without much outside influence. What we are talking about here is when an employee receives extra benefits or special treatment resulting from a ‘special relationship’ with their boss, rather than because of their observed and accepted excellent job performance.
And it’s the perception of the favourite employee that causes the damage, and this is just as damaging as the real thing. Don’t think that just because what others are saying about you can be defended by fobbing it off as jealousy or backbiting; perception is reality to team members, so how can you ensure this situation doesn’t raise its head in your department?
Here are some ideas that will keep perceptions going the right way:
1. With everything you do, make sure that rewards, promotions and perks can be measured by objective performance measurements
2. Although you can’t treat people exactly the same, make sure everyone is treated fairly.
3. Be open and objective in your communication style – this will build trust within the team
4. Build a team environment that allows a culture of trust to develop, enabling team members to approach you with any concerns they may have
5. Be aware of any actions you might be taking that could be misinterpreted as favouring one employee over another, and let team members know the reasons why that employee is being rewarded
6. Create clear and objective measurements that all team members can recognise as achievable and fair, so all have the same possibilities of achievement.
By carrying out these ideas, you minimise the risks of the perception of favouritism being an issue within the department
Originally published: 12 May, 2010
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